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Dutch Babies: Not So Sweet

 Geert Wilders, the highly controversial Dutch politician, spoke last night at Columbia on “free speech.”  Bwog’s Smoke and a Pancake Bureau Chief (look, we had to get the joke out of the way) Mark Hay was in attendance.  After the jump, Derek Turner, Communications Director for CUCR, provides a statement.

Geert WildersProtests were limited to a lone sign-waver decrying (without actually crying) Islamophobia. And only twice did the audience in any way jeer, but the upsets went almost completely unnoticed – there were no banner bearers. We must credit this neutrality to Wilders’s unexpected finesse and charm – rather than taking any bait, Wilders responded, “even though you call me ignorant like a clown, I applaud your use of freedom of speech” – and, naturally, the deflective powers of his mighty golden mane. Indeed, the command of Wilders over his audience, the prevalence of applause and amazing shortage of boos and outbursts, was completely unexpected. But the night was full of surprises and not all of them nearly so pleasant.

As one CIRCA board member told Bwog, “We marketed this as an event on free speech.” And Wilders did focus exclusively on free speech – for all of seven minutes, we counted. After the usually appreciate note to his hosting institution, Wilders made his key claim: that, in Europe and increasingly America, “free speech is no longer a given,” and, noting his need for twenty-four hour police protection, claims he, “would not consider [himself] as a free man in [the free speech] fight anymore.”

As for Wilders’ account of Islam, it best to relate his stance by a series of direct quotations: “I have nothing against Muslims. … In fact the majority of Muslims in Western society are law abiding people. […]. Islam is a wicked and totalitarian ideology [based on the Quran and the life of Muhammad …] The Quran is, unfortunately, an evil book.  […]  If you don’t believe in every part of Quran, you are a renegade. [… And finally:] There is no such thing as a moderate Islam.” These quotations are not cherry-picked or de-contextualized. Wilders delivered them in variations at multiple points in his speech, often as stand-alone statements, and when questioners attempted to clarify if he meant this exactly, he responded with resounding and steadfast affirmations.

Wilders suggests a clear path to escape this radicalization. First and foremost, he suggests a constitutional amendment ending cultural relativism, encouraging states to officially follow his lead and “proudly say that our Western culture is better than Islamic culture,” by acknowledging their Judaeo-Christian identity. Additionally, the west should halt Muslim immigration and adopt a policy of deportation for practitioners of jihad and/or shariah (essentially anything that does not conform to Western cultural ideals), along with more diplomatic methods.

Some salient points were raised in the question and answer segment, despite substantial pussyfooting (questioners were sure to acknowledge Wilders’ right to his own opinion and to free speech, seeking to avoid any sort of situation). Doesn’t Wilders’s attack undermine the foundation of Muslim culture? Don’t these attacks just add fuel to the fire? Isn’t all of this just one man’s interpretation of a highly complex and multi-faceted text and faith? If Christianity was spread by violence and intolerance and endured an era of conflict with secular, Western ideals, then why can Islam not assimilate to the West? And what do you say, should we give free speech to holocaust deniers?

For the majority of answers, see above; most of the responses were nearly word-for-word repetitions of statements from his lecture (and, in fact, a quick check on coverage of other lectures confirms that most of the lecture itself is a canned spiel delivered again and again nationwide).

And then he disappeared. The questions were cut off and within the space of a few seconds, Wilders was gone.  This too was rather disappointing for the event sponsors. The event was billed to run two hours but actually remained onstage (including the question and answer segment) from 8:45 PM to 9:41 PM – only fifty-six minutes. The CIRCA board member expressed discontent and dissatisfaction with this and the anti-Islamic focus.

After being pushed to the curb in the sweep to clear the building, many attendees noted a certain discontent with the caution of questioners. When one questioner was about to be hustled away from the microphone, snapped, “I will come to my question, but there is freedom of speech, isn’t there?” this received more applause than any other moment of the event.  Certainly, a fellow attendee agreed, the concern to respect Wilders’ right to speech and avoid an (non-violent, even) incident may have contributed to a forced civility.

Listening to Wilders speak is something of a trip, and most everyone stumbled out just a little bit confused. Why were the questions not more contentious? Wilders, for all one-sidedness, has his points and valid roots to his fears. How far he takes them and how he addresses them are subject to disputes, but large portions of Europe are increasingly upset and unsettled by their Muslim minorities. And Wilders is a voice in the wilderness. Understanding Wilders, listening to him, and learning how to deal with him, either to help or to hinder his rise, is of vital importance to future European-American-Muslim relations. Only problem is that we, as this lecture demonstrated, really have no clue as to how to deal with him.

From the Columbia University College Republicans:

The CUCR invited Geert Wilders not because of his views, which the club does not in any way endorse, but rather because he is one of the more prominent victims of free speech limitation in Europe and in other parts of the world. As anyone who has studied the history of free speech knows, its defense lies not where mainstream views are voiced but rather among those who hold unpopular, offensive, or extreme views. Geert Wilders is one such person. His views, especially about Islam, are far from mainstream and definitely lie on the extreme end of the spectrum. However, CUCR does not think that that is a reason to criminally prosecute someone (as Wilders is in the Netherlands) or restrict someone’s travel (as Wilders has experienced until recently in the UK).

This organization invited Wilders to come speak at CU as someone who has experienced a dramatic limitation of his right to speaking freely. We didn’t invite him to talk about his views on Islam. We find the fact that he spent so much of his speech talking about those views regrettable, but he did explain that those views play a part in his concern for free speech. CUCR thought that the parts of his speech about free speech were illuminating and constructive to the larger discussion about this concept on campus. We found his proposal to introduce a “First Amendment” law in the EU especially exciting, as it would give European citizens the same rights that we enjoy in the United States.

As for concern for the event in light of the events at Tempe University, CUCR is proud to say that we were confident that the Columbia community would give him a chance to speak, which they did. Columbia students, passionate as they are, have an admirable respect for dialogue and CUCR believes that is exactly what took place last night, especially during the Q & A session. The students, instead of shouting down Wilders like those at Temple did on Tuesday, expressed their passionate views regarding Wilders through thoughtful questions and constructive inquiry. That sort of behavior is a testament to the open minded nature of students at Columbia.

Regarding concerns about our image, CUCR realized that bringing Wilders to campus would have its risks, but we were confident that the Columbia community would understand that CUCR was not endorsing his views by inviting him. Instead, CUCR and our cosponsoring organizations were taking a stand for free speech and its presence for all individuals. Again, we would have preferred him to talk more about free speech, but it would have been hypocritical to impose strict limits on the boundaries of his speech after voicing such opposition to limitation of free speech.

Overall, CUCR believes the event was a success, if only for starting a discussion on campus about what place free speech has and should have in the world today.

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  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous “..there were no banner bearers.”

    There were no banner bearers, because banners weren’t allowed (free speech?). Way to miss the crucial detail that is oh-so-telling of what this night was actually about: the use of Geert’s vitriol to make the CURC relevant. Did I mention the Q and A session was truncated?

  • Would that it were so ... says:

    @Would that it were so ... Unfortunately I can say that is not why Wilders left. I am told that Wilders intended to only stay for an hour, was talked up to ninety minutes, and left immediately once he had been in the building for ninety minutes.

  • Why leave early? says:

    @Why leave early? Why did Geert Wilders leave early? Because the final questioner punctured his argument. Look at the video below:

    The final questioner asks why Wilders advocates denaturalization of Muslim-heritage immigrants. It’s a fair question. After all, if his fight is against Islam and not the people of Islam, why target the people?
    WIlders begins his reply with the usual pleasantries, that he does not think the immigrants are bad people, and many of them are very nice, etc. But then he says that because of “unusual circumstances”, we need to stop Islamisation coming from immigration, and throw people out for more minor crimes.
    So–if an immigrant from New York commits violent crime, he’ll be punished in the normal fashion. If an immigrant from Algiers does the same, watch out! That’s bigotry. It’s based on the bigoted idea that if a Muslim immigrant punches a guy on the street, it’s part of the Jihad and it’s like enlisting in a foreign army. No mention of the many socioeconomic factors that cause high crime incidence among immigrant populations, such as our mostly Catholic neighbors from Latin America. These socioeconomic factors only apply to Christians; if a Christian immigrant punches someone on the street, it is assumed they are just mad about work, or drank too much, or in a petty crime, or whatever. The Christians get to stay.

    I’m pretty sure what I just said would have come out within the other scheduled hour of questions, and I’ll bet Wilders was also aware. THAT’s why he left.

    1. Actually, says:

      @Actually, if you look at the video, you’ll see that he tells his Secret Service people to tell the CUCR staff that there is time for one more question – BEFORE the question you reference is asked. Not everything is as dramatic as you hope…

  • reductio ad hitlerum says:

    @reductio ad hitlerum isn’t so absurd when the democratically elected guy in question demonizes a religious group in the name of democracy and freedom, calling for their expulsion for the slightest crime, preaching cultural superiority and banning their symbols in public, not to mention advocating a “cold war” (with one billion people, no less).

    yeah, i think a comparison to hitler is not quite ridiculous.

    1. err says:

      @err actually it is 1.57 billion now according to the Pew Forum Project.

      this means 1 in 4 people on this planet is a muslim.

      another quote from the article:
      ” And while most people think of the Muslim population of Europe is being composed of immigrants, that’s only true in western Europe, Cooperman said. “In the rest of Europe — Russia, Albania, Kosovo, those places — Muslims are an indigenous population,” he said. “More than half of the Muslims in Europe are indigenous.”

      1. Wow, that's scary says:

        @Wow, that's scary When are people going to wake up?

    2. It's always hilarious says:

      @It's always hilarious when people are so desperate to defend Islam that they compare its opponents to Hitler, a man who murdered 11 million people, and started a war that killed 60 million people. So yeah, work on your analogies; right now you just look ignorant.

      1. defintion of analogy: says:

        @defintion of analogy: resemblance in some particulars between things otherwise unlike; a comparison based on such resemblance

        Subjects of analogies don’t have to be equal in scale. Put your righteous indignation towards a more offensive target (like Ahmadinejad’s holocaust views) and leave the analogy guy alone, yeah?

  • quote says:

    @quote he prefaced the statement “if you don’t believe in every part of Quran, you are a renegade,” by stating that it comes from the Quran, so i’m not sure if you can say that hasn’t been de-contextualized bwog…

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous The article says “Some salient points were raised in the question and answer segment, despite substantial pussyfooting (questioners were sure to acknowledge Wilders’ right to his own opinion and to free speech, seeking to avoid any sort of situation”

    I was the guy who asked the first question in the Q&A, and I took the approach that I did because I feel that Muslims need to set a better example in how they deal with individuals who think like Wilders.

    The proper response would be constructive dialogue, not bombing embassies, killing a filmmaker because of his controversial views and turning protests into riots. This only reflects badly on our religion and only feeds the negativity, and unfortunately, this has become the image associated with many Muslims in Europe.

    Geert Wilders did have valid points, and as a practicing Muslim, I do acknowledge that there is a serious problem within the Islamic community in Europe and elsewhere, but this is a very deep, complex issue that has long historical roots both politically and theologically.

    What I don’t like about Geert Wilders views is that he thinks he can teach me my own religion, and that is quite arrogant AND ignorant. He actually thinks that he has the monopoly on the “truth”, and that a billion Muslims, and more than a thousand years of scholarship and philosophy, are all wrong. I know what the Qur’an says and what it doesn’t say very well, and for him to take this approach with regard to Islam really shows that he exhibits the same “black and white” “us vs. them” mentality as the fanatics who hijacked the faith.

    I find it unfortunate that there are students on campus who endorse his views on Islam (based on what I see in the blog comments), but I’d be happy to talk and debate in person with anyone about Islam.

    Despite his views, Wilders should not be under 24 hour protection and he should not be banned or restricted because he happens to say controversial things. His views must be debated and challenged openly, but in a civil manner, not with anger or rash behavior.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous I’m a bit confused about what your position on Islam is.
      Are you saying that 1400 years of islamic scholarship agree with your own personal interpretation of Islam or are you saying that your personal interpretation is the only correct one and the scholars have hijacked the faith for 1400 years?
      Or is your view the same as the ones scholars of Islam have held for 1400 years?
      You see in all those 1400 years there has never been what people would call a “moderate” Islam.
      A Islam which seperates Church from state or remotely complies with democracy,human rights and equality before the law regardless of race,gender,religion,or sexual orientation.
      Also it’s surprising to me that you say that Muslim immigrants have a historical baggage but Western European do not.
      Or there historical baggage is not relevant.
      Maybe Europe’s experience with Islam has never been positive in 1400 years of contact.

  • what about says:

    @what about the freedom of speech to wear your hijab in a French school?

    Oh, wait…..

  • he's an idiot says:

    @he's an idiot and the college republicans are full of it. really you brought him to campus not because of his anti-immigration views or hateful rhetoric, but because he promotes free speech? bullshit. you don’t bring in a fascist as the opposite of ultra-pc ness. That’s like bringing in hitler to counter affirmative action.

    1. godwin's law says:

      @godwin's law AKA reducto ad hitlerum

      good work

    2. i love you says:

      @i love you you said it perfectly… you just left out the facet the the CU Republicans, like all Republicans, are just marginalized irrelevant schoolyard bullies and thugs.

      1. wow... says:

        @wow... and its close-minded people like you who can’t grasp the fact that people might actually have differing opinions that leads to prejudice, etc.

    3. Agreed says:

      @Agreed CUCR needs to grow some balls and admit that they care about controversy and publicity more than they do about “free speech.”

  • What I don't understand says:

    @What I don't understand As an atheist who supports equal rights for women and LGBT folks, I fail to understand why liberals and leftists are so in love with Islam, a religion that calls for the subjugation of women, and the execution of atheists/LGBT individuals. Do you eally think that under a “European Caliphate,” you’d be honored for your “brave defense of Islam”? No; you’d be the first to get your heads lopped off for being “abhorrent degenerates.”

    1. Christianity says:

      @Christianity used to be the same way. Cultures can evolve, but it’s more difficult when there are people trying to stamp them out.

    2. no lo comprendo says:

      @no lo comprendo The “European Caliphate” (see: Western Europe, unless we don’t count the Balkans as Europe) response and the versions thereof to me never make sense – we cannot assume what would happen if the Umayyads had won at Covadonga or Toulouse. However rightist-inclined the current iterations of governance are in the current Arab or even greater Muslim world, we don’t know, as commenter 7 points out, how cultures evolve. This point of view is reminiscent of (I know this is pounded in at Columbia) colonialist attitudes about a stagnant culture, compared with the vibrant ‘west’. ‘They’ are unchanging, monolithic, heavily reliant on ancient doctrine. ‘We’ are much more liberal, changing, etc. Us/Them binaries, like all binaries often (most of the time) don’t work and need to be re-evaluated.

      1. Stagnant culture? says:

        @Stagnant culture? Yeah, I’d say Islam is a pretty stagnant culture:

        “Spain translates more foreign books in a year than all the Arab-speaking countries have translated since the reign of Caliph Mamoun in the ninth century.”

        Don’t you realize that as the left-wing urges “integration” and “acceptance” of Islam, the Islamists are urging EXACTLY the opposite in regards to Western culture?

  • hmm ... says:

    @hmm ... I think most of the people who asked the questions were responding not to Wilders’s reputation but to his statements about Islam. The name-calling may have been unnecessary, but they all had fair points.

  • CC11 says:

    @CC11 Fantastic event! I agreed with every word he said. Some of the people who asked questions were simply obnoxious. People, you can ask him whatever you want, but there’s no need for insults…

    1. It's disheartening says:

      @It's disheartening to know that people agree with him. A man who wants to destroy an entire religion without even knowing anything about it shouldn’t be looked up to.

  • Double standard? says:

    @Double standard? Columbia gets lambasted by the press (and its own students/faculty) for letting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad give a speech, but when an equally violent rhetorician gives an equally offensive speech, no one cares. Simply beautiful.

    1. yes says:

      @yes you are right. it is because most people just aren’t that intelligent and don’t think for themselves: they judge speaker’s on the basis of their fame (or infamy) rather than on the character of their arguments

      1. impressed says:

        @impressed Heavens you are such a genius! Ahmadinejad’s contentions that the veracity of the Holocaust is a matter of dispute worthy of “research,” and that there are no gays in Iran are indeed quite substantial arguments. Only someone who judged him based upon his name or the appearance of his attire would conclude otherwise. Thank you for sharing your superior intellect.

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